Sunday, December 15, 2013

My help is trying to give me stuff...!

If you live in Bangladesh and you are not living in a slum, chances are you have help.  Additionally, if you are in the development world you most likely have help.  It has been such an adjustment for me because I was working class, actually a lower working class American my whole life and I didn't even know anyone who had help or at least they didn't say they did.  I suspect looking back that some of my friends had a housekeeper/maid person that came a day or two a week or a month, but not us.

I eventually got used to the idea and even comfortable, and now way I am way too comfortable with it.  There have been conversations that started with "What are we going to do when we move back to the U.S? We have really ruined ourselves and our kids." Other discussions with other spouses that have been "this has saved our marriage" or "Yikes!  We hardly ever talk anymore because we aren't fighting about who has to do dishes/laundry/pickupthedanglegos".

After only two interviews, because I am lazy and was new to this whole thing, we started out with an ayah/nanny who really is a housekeeper that gets the kids off the bus and keeps them pretty safe.  I was fortunate enough to start this lifestyle when my kids were older and they "knew better" and so most of the ownership was on them if they misbehaved or they broke an arm (yes, it happened and she still has a job with us).  I also had a hard time coming around to the idea because I was working from home teaching for the first 8 months and it was just weird.  Now I am working from home again, thanks to the political instability of Bangladesh and I have embraced the "help at home" lifestyle.

There is no way I could keep my house as "clean" as it was in the U.S. mainly because pollution here is just off the charts.  It is no Beijing, but everything is covered in this nasty black slimy soot, even in closed closets, plus we leave dishes and clothes and shoes all over the place.

One of many reasons that I enjoy it is because of what happened today.  A few months ago we hired a woman to cook for us part time.  I basically have stopped doing anything for myself or my family (I say cynically, but not really) since we moved here and my husband recognized it and hired her so they can eat.  Our ayah could cook and actually enjoys doing so for us, but we just don't love her cooking.  It's "hard" when you are not at home and have to call and try and get it across what you and especially the kids want for dinner.  It would often times end in disaster to the point that my kids loved chili that I made with the McCormick packet.  I do rock that out, but that's MY go to dinner, and she'd probably ruin it with extra chilies or mutton.

Our part time cook "C" was here for the afternoon and our ayah checked the time clock early (just kidding, there is not time clock, we just weren't as messy today).  I got to talk to my cook for a while and it was heartbreaking and inspiring as most stories are from someone from Bangladesh.  C speaks much better English than our ayah and she reads and that is awesome.  Another thing I have come to terms with is that I will have to be hardcore when hiring help at the next post because I like to leave lists of tasks, stuff to buy, people that will be stopping over, and the occasional text.  We will see if that actually happens because I am not so hardcore in that way.  Music, sure.  Helping people make their way in the horrible, crappy world they were handed, not so much.

So anyways C and I were able to chat because our ayah wasn't here at the time.  They seem to really enjoy each others' company, but I don't know what they are talking about.  I don't even want to think about it, considering we have been super sick around them and who knows what else is on the radar for them.

It all started with her worried that she was going to go to her village about a 10 hour drive on a good day home and that she wouldn't be able to cook for us while she was away.  I reassured her that it was no big deal.  She got even more concerned because we are returning from our little trip right around when she would be leaving.  We figured out the meals and she would come in the day before we returned and cook us stuff and leave it in the fridge.

Then it all got interesting.  She, her husband and daughter were going to be taking a bus to Jessore and I was now worried about her doing that, and she reassured me they would be safe.  Then I asked if she would be visiting her parents and brothers and sisters.

I knew that C has a tween daughter and she does all she can for her.  She works for us part time in addition to full time for another well paying man, plus her husband works, too.  It is a rare situation to have help where both parents work and focus on their DAUGHTER.  Then C answered all my questions that I had and I was amazed.  Her mother had raised 5 of 6 young kids after her husband had died, he just got sick and died here as it happens.  Her mother was fortunate enough to work for some ambassadors and other expat folks and sent most of her kids through at least 8th grade. C's siblings are either working as house help or teachers in local schools and one brother is a bearer (custodian in the US).  He goes and teaches as the local school with his 8th grade education and then goes and works as a custodian at my kid's school.

I was so happy to hear that they are all such wonderful giving people and asked what her mother is up to and if she will get to see her when she goes home.

Well, she won't.  I learned that her mother was hit by a bus when she was at home and all of her adult children were here in Dhaka about 5 years ago.  My sweet C got a call that horrible day and made it back to Jessore after at least a 10 hour bus ride only to find out that her mother had died in the hospital.

I have rarely seen a Bangladeshi person cry and the first time that I remember vividly was when I told my driver he didn't need to come to work the next day because I was going home to see my Gram because she was not well.  He asked if she was going to be okay and I had to tell him because our communication between our languages was so bad and had to be blunt, so I let him know that she would maybe die, he cried.  I couldn't hug him because it wasn't culturally okay, but we both wanted to.  C was somehow smiling when she was wiping tears from her eyes with her apron while she told me the story about her mother.

The rest of the time she was at my apartment she offered me her saris that she cannot wear because she is "too fat" and then took a salwar kameez for a pattern to get me another one or two made.  She figured out what patterns and colors I like and will get another one fixed that got ruined from being washed.  Another thing, as if you didn't love her enough already...I asked her to go out and get some soda water for the grown ups and she came back with that and root beer, coke, seven up, and sprite, because she loves our kids and is always thinking of them.  

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